Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another Migraine Trigger Unmasked

I have discovered my third and most dramatic migraine trigger (yay!).  The first two were easy.  High fructose corn syrup and sodium nitrate are easy to avoid, and after discovering how dramatically food affects my migraines I've cut them back to one or two a month.

Since I was having four or five a week, complete with numbness on the right side of my body and slurring words, just limiting those foods was a huge step (it seems I can still have a few slices of bacon here or a package of skittles there, as long as they're spaced out and in moderation).  Or so I thought.  What I didn't realize was that when we moved I eliminated a rather frequent beverage and that was apparently a big part of my mostly migraine free state.

I had wondered if there was something else.  I love bacon (when I'm not pregnant... at the moment I despise it) but wasn't eating bacon that often (usually just as a topping with certain soups).  And was I eating that much candy or soda?  Still I couldn't figure out another trigger.

Until Sunday when Paul brought home a flavored carbonated bottled water.  We used to drink quite a bit of CVS's Gold Label flavored carbonated water (I would estimate I probably drank it 4-5 times a week... we had the CVS discount and the bottles are fairly big and would last me a couple days).  I usually hate the taste of pretty much all diet drinks, with their artificial sweeteners, and I guess that's why I didn't look too closely at the bottled "waters'" label.  

As I began to eliminate foods and watch for migraine triggers the triggers became fairly obvious (when I thought they were entirely hormonal I never thought to looks for a connection).  I would bite into one piece of bacon too many and feel the migraine start almost instantly.  I'd take a sip of soda and have the same feeling.  Halfway through the carbonated water I felt the migraine start and my mind began to whirl.  This had to be it.  Something in the water.

Tonight, with the migraine gone (it's been replaced with the flu!  I seriously need a break from feeling like this!), I started googling the water ingredients and the likely ingredient jumped out pretty quickly (probably because the product site had a section labeled "warning").

"Phenylalanine."  I copied and pasted and googled and found out phenylalanine is what's in aspartame. And after reading a little more I'd have to say that despite the FDA's assurances that aspartame is super safe (the Wikipedia goes into that extensively) I definitely don't think that it's safe for me.  The one major diet change when we moved was the elimination of those bottled waters, since Paul no longer worked at CVS and got the discount, and couldn't just pick up a few on his way home from work.

And while it seems that there are plenty of studies out there to tell me I'm wrong and that I should just keep putting aspartame in my body (NutraSweet commissioned the study that came to that conclusion...), I think I'll take the fact that I'm not slurring my words with numbness on one side of my body, or hiding from light and sounds for more than half the week, as a sign that the studies might be missing something (like maybe the fact that not every migraine sufferer will have the same migraine triggers!).

Now that I've discovered this trigger I'm hoping I might go over a month without a migraine!  I don't think that's happened since I was 14 years old (over half my life now!)!  I'm pretty excited!


  1. I can't have it either, massive headache. And safe, yeah right. It's a neurotoxin.

  2. I'm so happy that you are identifying these triggers! Praise God! My daughter and I are both sensitive to aspartame and I haven't had it in years. She swells up with red blotches on her skin if a product touches her... I imagine something similar happens on the inside!

    We get nitrate-free bacon and hot dogs. They have them at the grocery store and also places like Walmart. The bacon is yummy but I don't like the hot dogs. My kids don't care though.

  3. So cool you found that! I've been fine for a few days now but in my desperation for something sweet I decided to make some lemonade with bottled lemon juice from our fridge. I drank about half a glass and realized I was having problems breathing. I decided to look up the ingredients and found that sodium benzoate is an allergy triggerer.

    It's in all soda since it's an anti-fungal ingredient. Maybe this is something you should avoid too.

  4. It's fantastic to hear that you've discovered another trigger. Although I've never had an actual migraine before, I have definitely experienced headaches from caffeine. I don't drink anything but water, juice, and soy milk now. I'm no medical expert, but I know for sure how important it is to DRINK WATER!

    Especially because you live in such a hot, moist climate, it has to be very easy to get dehydrated. Keep drinking good old H2O for you, and the baby! xx

  5. Have you thought about (and I'm not sure if they can test you for this now, but I don't see why they can't, they test babies) about getting tested for Phenylketonuria. I don't know too much about it, but from what little I do know, I believe that it is a "disorder"/condition that causes some sort of allergic reaction to phenylalanine. I believe that one of the main allergy symptoms is a headache/migraine. I know with babies they test with a simple blood test (that heal prick they generally do in the hospital the day after birth - PKU, I think the test is called). You could talk to your doctor about it and see if they could test you for it now.

    Just a thought. Hope you get to feeling better! :) Lots of prayers.

  6. Wow. That's way too many for one person be having each month; I know just how debilitating they can be. So glad you've identified another trigger. Carbonated and sweetened waters are lethal for me if I'm feeling tired. I have the usual culprits of red wine, strong cheese and caffeine, but strangely I can also be confined to a dark room by too much peanut butter, strawberries and white chocolate (not all at the same time, clearly!)
    Dark chocolate seems fine with me; happily, as it's the only chocolate I really crave. But perfumes are often huge triggers for me, particularly the headier, probably very expensive ones that women seem to bathe in before hitting public transport...

  7. Aspertame is my mom's migraine trigger as well; so glad that you're feeling better!

  8. And let me add to this: my FIL is a chemist at a university and he told us to never, ever consume man-made sweeteners. The stuff is toxic. Eat sugar from sugar cane cuz not even the rats will eat the sugar beet sugar. I very happily eat my brown sugar / fancy white sugar cake every now and then. I'm so glad you figured out the trigger! Many more happy days without migraines for you to come!

  9. I have experienced migraines since I was 16 (I am 34 now) - I have long noticed that when I would eat certain foods, they would help ease the pain. I had heard about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) but over all the years I've had migraines, I never heard of that as I possible trigger. However, recently my husband started to watch for HFCS, and I put two and two together - HFCS containing foods are the ones that ease the pain. Once I eat one - often it is almost immediate that the headache begins to ease... and although for the moment that is helpful... we began to wonder if the HFCS is actually triggering them, and then more HFCS is one of the only things that will ease them (like the caffeine cycle - which I got out of 10 years ago). When I read that the chemical makeup of HFCS is different and it is readily absorbed without digestion - this immediately rang true to me. We aren't health nuts - but we've decided to cut out HFCS from now on... nothing that is absorbed that readily and makes such drastic changes in my body, can be beneficial, and I pray it will be another trigger eliminated (my others are dark chocolate, alcohol and caffeine). I am hopeful we will begin to see improvements in my headaches in the weeks and months to come! Thanks for confirming something I have only just recently put together for myself!

  10. aspartame was cause of blind spot in my left eye.
    Caused swelling of optic nerve, leading to 'stroke' in my eye. Optic nerve swelling disappeared as soon as I eliminated aspartame. Did the opthalmologist believe me? No-o-o-o-o. Love these specialists :-(

  11. I also suffer from migraines 4 to 5 days a week. Im currently pregnant and they have reduced to about 2 to 4 days a week, but of course I can't take any medication now either. Neurologists have told me to cut out every migraine trigger, although I find that unrealistic and very difficult to do. The only positively identified trigger I have noticed for myself is after a hard cry I can count on the migraine within 24 hours. I'm sure the others must be food or drink related. Lately I have been drinking a lot of uncaffeinated diet 7-Up in order to try and keep out caffeine, could that be making them worse? I just don't know where to start and am desperate! I find it unrealistic to think that with my poor eating habits I can cut out every single possible trigger all at once. As I write this (pregnant so cannot take any medication) ive have been down with a migraine 2 1/2 days. I am miserable! Please advise on how you started cutting out triggers or if you did it all at once cold turkey. I feel like you have been more helpful in this one blog then every doctor I've seen. Even prior to my pregnancy, medications don't help so it is crucial that I identify triggers and take care of this myself. Please help, any additional suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Since you asked for suggestions, for me it is dyes, especially red 40. They are hard to avoid because manufacturer's put them in everything. Also, tannin is really bad for me. It is naturally occurring. Tea has the highest level of tannin and I only learned about this trigger after googling "why does McDonald's sweet tea give me migraines?" I couldn't figure it out because there are only two ingredients in it - tea and sugar. That search showed me it must be the tannin. Trees have a lot of tannin so anything smoked or with "smoke flavoring" triggers me. I can't eat a lot of bacon but I think it is the smoked aspect the most. I can't eat BBQ sauce since they use smoke flavoring in it. Artificial dyes have tannin. They are made from coal tar which in itself sounds awful but I also read that if your well water is high in tannin it is probably because it was filtering through a vein of coal so coal must have a lot of tannin. It has taken me years to figure out my food triggers. Like the author of the blog I too thought it was hormonal. Also, I was actually one of those people that poo pooed food triggers so I actually had to get over that myself. It was actually because I realized I was subconsciously avoiding certain foods and realized it was my body taking charge when my mind couldn't accept it. Haha. My family and most of my friends believe me about my food triggers because they have seen me get better and better. As far as anyone else I have decided that I don't care if they believe me, even my doctor seems skeptical. When I thought about it, what really matters? What matters is that I am able to control some of my migraines by not eating those foods so it doesn't matter if anyone believes me. Because tannin and dyes are so common it makes my diet kind of limited. I do not stay away from all tannin since it is so hard because it occurs naturally in so many foods but I do stay away from dyes unless I accidentally eat something with dye. It's crazy how much dye is out there. It's crazy how many foods have tannin but I just stay away from the things that have the most. Tannin is tough for people to understand since most people believe that eating a more natural diet will help but in the case of tannin that is not true. Grapes and pomegranates are high in tannin and I have to limit them. Tannin makes food have bitterness.

    2. I am also on my journey to figure out my migraines. As I've gotten older ( 31 now!) I started to believe people when they said migraines could be triggered by numerous things. I thought it was just something I would get when I drank too much or didn't drink enough water. Here are the definite triggers after a year of eliminating and testing different foods that may have caused each migraine.

      1. I found out that I also am sensitive to TANNINS, especially in apple juice or apples, and black tea. I've eliminated these things completely after trying them two or three times each with the same horrible pounding, light sensitive, can't get out of bed and want to cry migraine the next morning or about 5 hours later. Usually those tannin induced migraines wouldn't respond to any medicine, but could only be dulled. I was drinking the apple juice to "hydrate" and avoid migraines from other drinks!

      2. Pillsbury Grands biscuits ( the ones in the can you pop, and bake yourself!) Absolutely terrible migraine every time.

      3.Vanillin ..... I was eating nestle toll house peanut butter morsels, just a tablespoons worth. Each night that i did that the migraine kicked in a few hours later.

      I only get migraines about two times a month now and it used to be every 5 or so days. I'm in the process of eliminating four tortillas, and ready made store bought baked goods. Still cannot figure out the exact ingredients that are causing them . I know sugar can be rough in high amounts so I'll still figuring it out!

    3. I only get migraines about two times a month now and it used to be every 5 or so days. I'm in the process of eliminating four tortillas, and ready made store bought baked goods. Still cannot figure out the exact ingredients that are causing them . I know sugar can be rough in high amounts so I'll still figuring it out!

  12. To me, this sounds like high fructose corn syrup allergy. Especially the McDonald's sweet tea. Loaded with it. It goes under many different names and it's difficult to avoid because it's in so many things. It took me a really long time to figure it out, and I'm still in the process of avoiding it and make mistakes sometimes. But every time I do, I trace it back to high fructose corn syrup. For instance my most recent incident was with McDonald's iced coffee. I thought I was ordering an iced coffee with a little bit of milk, I asked for a Splenda on the side, and it triggered one of the worst migraines ever. So I Googled the ingredients and I was shocked to see a lengthy list of scary sounding ingredients as well as many people complaining about the same issues. Go figure. I thought I was just ordering coffee and milk.


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